‘How do you capture the joy that these young people are expressing and feeling in words on a feedback form?’ said by a leader whilst watching a group of 20 young people trying to navigate their rafts around an island.
That is the challenge that faces us as we try to demonstrate to City of Sanctuary that the money they gave us to run Project Get Together was both well spent and worthwhile.
Briefly HBTSR were funded by City of Sanctuary [via the Guardian Refugee fund] to run a project to bring together up to 80 young people from the three South Wales cities ( both those who have lived in the UK all their lives and those seeking asylum/refuge ) for a residential weekend of out-door activities to be run by PGL (one of the UK leading activity holiday providers and where one of our supporters [Steve] works) designed to build team working and leadership qualities in participants.
City of Sanctuary’s aims were to develop mutual understanding through this project and to demonstrate
*a positive vision of welcome and hospitality for all,
*opportunities for friendship and solidarity between locals and people seeking sanctuary,
*partnership and network development across localities
These were the aims of the weekend of 6-8th July 2018 at PGL Tregoyd which was the result of many meetings and emails with partners in the cities [ Llanishen High school School of Sanctuary, Tros Gynnal Plant, (who offer Advocacy and Participation, including a national group for refugees & asylum seekers aged 11 to 25 to have their voices heard )
a foster carer in Cardiff, The Sanctuary Newport, Bloom Swansea and City of Sanctuary Swansea ].
The work involved in planning means that we already have developed networking across localities and sectors and have already some plans for future cooperation.
PGL has experienced activity leaders who led all activities and every group was accompanied by familiar leaders or teachers to provide additional support and pastoral care throughout the weekend. We agreed to mix up the groups between dormitories and activity groups so that people were encouraged to network and chat. Enormous credit and thanks must go to our accompanying teachers and leaders and our partners without whom the weekend would not have been possible. Thanks are also due to Raz and Susan for translation of the forms into Arabic and Welsh respectively – the Arabic version was much needed!
They were all at Tregoyd PGL where they were speaking to participants in an activity weekend with a difference.
At first glance, there would have been nothing remarkable about the group of youngsters having fun on zip wires and bonding over building rafts in the summer sunshine of mid Wales.
But what made this group remarkable is that many of the young people are now trying to make their lives in Wales, having fled conflict and crisis as refugees or asylum seekers.
The activity weekend, held at the PGL Tregoyd Centre near Hay-on-Wye, brought together just over 70 youngsters from Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, many in local schools or colleges, together with some local teenagers who had come along to welcome and join in with them.
The event had been organised by the Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, a group set up in response to the refugee crisis in 2015 which has since grown into a charity that hosts regular respite days around mid Wales.
Its secretary, Ailsa Dunn, said: “When we were planning this weekend,we wanted to bring young people from the three cities and also local youngsters, so they had a chance to interact with people from different cities and cultures and appreciate all they had in common.’’
“City of Sanctuary [a national charity campaigning for welcome and hospitality to people forced to seek sanctuary in the UK] had a project funded by money from the Guardian Christmas Appeal which they wanted to use to further some of their objectives – to show a culture of welcome, offer opportunities for friendship and solidarity between locals and people seeking sanctuary, to develop partnerships and networking across localities and to identify opportunities for working on issues within and across communities.”
“We knew that our population is welcoming and if we could find people to help us to enlist young people from across South Wales, we would be able to work together to give opportunities for new friendships to develop among participants and in so
doing we might find other activities we can share. Therefore working closely with PGL ,we arranged for a weekend of team-building and leadership activities and together with The Sanctuary Newport, Llanishen High School Cardiff , Tros Gynnal Plant [Advocacy services] , Bloom[ A Swansea based charity working with people seeking asylum] and City of Sanctuary Swansea we were able to find both young people who had always lived in Wales and those who were seeking sanctuary who were keen to participate.”
Minibuses and cars began arriving on Friday afternoon, and were met by Welsh Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams with HBTSR Chair Margaret. After a minutes silence in memory of Mustafa who was due to be with us before his untimely death Kirsty spoke.
“I’m so pleased to be able to welcome so many young people to Tregoyd this weekend,” she said. “It’s fantastic to see so many people that have travelled here from Newport and Cardiff and Swansea but also students from our local high school at Gwernyfed and from Llanishen in Cardiff.
“It’s wonderful to see young people from such a wide variety of backgrounds coming together over the universal language of
football and fun and I’m so proud of constituents of mine who have gone out of their way to make these activities possible and to make people from different cultures who have experienced terrible things feel welcome.”
Pupils from Llanishen came with teacher Sian Owens who was instrumental in the school’s successful bid to become a school of sanctuary. This had been awarded that morning in a presentation by Julie Morgan AM meaning that the students were able to talk to two AMs in a single day!
“It started after the Brexit vote, and the rise in race hate crime,” Sian said. “I thought I’ve got to do something about it. I work with so many EAL (English as an additional language) students and I love them, and there was a feeling that all of a sudden they were being made to feel unwelcome in this country.”
“I went to a Hope not Hate conference and somebody suggested it to me that I should phone Rebecca Scott, Wales City of Sanctuary co-ordinator, she sent me the literature and then I put it to our headteacher and she said ‘go for it’. We met Ailsa a year ago at a similar conference and have been in touch ever since. My pupils have now made presentations about the need for friendship and acceptance at various meetings including the Senedd and a teachers conference ”
Arabic translation for much of the weekend was provided with a smile by Hassan,
who was forced to flee the war in Syria and first came to Wales two years ago from a refugee centre in Lebanon.
Now settled in Swansea, he is studying for a business degree at university- something he thought would be impossible when he arrived knowing no English. Hard work and help from various groups and people in Swansea means that he now speaks, reads and writes English and is keen to help others to assimilate.
“When we arrived at Tregoyd, we didn’t know many people here and people were asking how can we have a chat with anyone, but now after two days it’s easy and we’ve made friends,” he said.
“The activities have mixed people from different areas, cultures and backgrounds together to let people get to know each other.”
He added, ‘I never ever dreamed that I’d be interpreting for an AM, an inspirational speaker and an archbishop and that over a hundred people would be listening! ’
Another visitor, now at school in Newport, said: “It’s been good and it’s been tiring – we’ve had lots of dancing. It’s also been nice to get to know different people and
meet new friends. In Newport there’s a phone signal, Wi-Fi, but we all had a meltdown on Friday when we found out there was no signal but then you realise that’s fine, because when you have to talk to each other then you talk a lot more.”
Local lad Cian related how he was keen to come because ‘I would be way out of my comfort zone with both the activities and so many strangers but I figured that this would be an opportunity to grow, to meet new people and to learn about myself.’
The weekend was also an opportunity for the many groups set up in response to the humanitarian crisis, who provide advice and support to new arrivals, to get together and make new friends and swap ideas.
Mark Seymour, of Newport’s Sanctuary Project, said: “There’s been an equality about this weekend. If you’re a new arrival in Newport then you’re not on the same playing field as someone who’s been born and brought up there. Here, everyone’s arrived fresh to it, we’re all on the same footing and it’s been good to see friendships grow. Indeed some of the young people seeking sanctuary have very advanced problem solving skills and athleticism which is advantageous here.”
“All these cities have different, unique grassroots approaches to supporting asylum seekers and refugees, that are equally valid, working in different ways and it’s been nice to network. We’ve had schools, children’s advocacy service, refugee communities organisations, HBTSR all working together and with ideas for future cooperation.”
During the weekend, a visiting cub-master and a PGL instructor praised the help of two young Sudanese men. “One of our cubs was distraught after he failed to go on a trapeze. These two lads stopped their activity, came over and made him laugh by fooling around and joking with him. I was getting nowhere but they saved the day!”
A visit on Saturday evening from Scary Guy, a motivational speaker giving his time for free, urged the group not to judge a person by their looks but to reach out and accept differences. ‘Don’t fight negativity with negativity and just be yourself ‘he urged them. Hassan, nicknamed Funny Guy for the evening, translated his wise words with a calm smile.
The weekend drew to a close with a blessing from the Archbishop of Wales John Davies, who said: “One of the greatest things we can do as human beings is to reach
out to people in need, reach out to people who are in desperate, desperate trouble in so many parts of the world, and tell them that they are valued, they are important, they are precious, and we want them to flourish.
“That is what all this has been about this weekend – helping you to get to know each other perhaps to understand each other better, while recognising each one of you has the right as a human being to flourish in the world. I hope you all feel, wherever you are – Cardiff, Newport, Swansea or anywhere else –that you are welcomed, valued and important.
To all partners and leaders, Just to say a sincere thanks to all of you for all that you did to make the weekend so successful. An especial thanks to the group leaders who had a very hot and busy time trying to herd people in many directions at once, to ensure that they were safe and having fun and all that with very little sleep. Please Sian will you thank Christoper, Rachel, Gareth, Jack, Teresa, Tom and Nevanka for all that they did too? [ Oh and congratulations to Nevanka and Tom – I gathered from my grandson that they became engaged]
I know everyone wants me to thank Steve for his extremely hard work throughout the weekend [ and before] to ensure that everything ran smoothly. I have thanked the guest speakers who I think did enhance the experience and well done to Rebecca for such a great impromptu speech at the end. Ailsa
What a fabulous weekend which I think was thoroughly enjoyed by all concerned. Good luck with the reporting back to City of Sanctuary! Steve
Thanks – I’ve heard from more than one source that is was an extremely exciting and positive weekend, and this would not have been possible without the hours you put in both developing the initial bid and keeping us on track for the last more than 6 months. So huge thanks to you and your team. Rebecca has said that it worked so well , that everything is place for another one next year so maybe we could use this as a pilot for future fundraising, though I guess you do not want to think about this now! Kathryn
Thank YOU Ailsa! For your tireless work to bring these wonderful events together. Sarah
Salaam Alaikum! A massive thank you to all at the Sanctuary group & in particular Ailsa and the numerous leaders who worked so hard . We had a terrific time & what a pleasure to see children from different cultures and countries enjoying the many activities, in a fantastic setting. Peace & Love. Stuart.
I must echo Sarah’s sentiment in thanking you SO much for all that you did to make this weekend possible.It was,to use the PGL buzzword, absolutely ‘AWESOME’!
My pupils are just buzzing and bubbling with it and my colleague remarked that,from what she was hearing of their accounts of the weekend,it has been a life changing experience for them…what more can we ask for?!
For me, personally,it was one of the best weekends I have ever had in my life.It was so deeply pleasing to see all those young people together,in such a heavenly setting; smiling,relaxing & having pure fun.
It was better than I could have ever expected & the weather was absolutely perfect too.
Suffice to say,more than well worth all the hard work and planning and I have loved being part of such a dedicated and committed team.I would do it all again tomorrow in a heartbeat. Sian
Thank you and well done to everybody, what a wonderful weekend! One of the boys in my group from Swansea has apparently been talking a lot about his new friends who were local to Tregoyd and hopes to stay in touch. So great to see all that hard work come together.
THANK YOU EVERYONE!! 😀 Rebecca
21 young refugees from Newport joined 60 others from Cardiff, Swansea and Brecon at a residential weekend at PGL in Brecon. Raft building ( and sinking ) archery, abseiling, zip wire and many more activities. Visit from Kirsty Williams, WG minister for Education, Archbishop of Wales, and the phenomenal scary guy addressed the group. And somehow an inmpromptu disco. A life changing weekend full of laughter, fun and sheer joy ! Our thanks to Hay Hay, Brecon & Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees for their hard work in organising it Mark
Well it was a great weekend I have ever had
Although it was warm but it’s doesn’t matter really
Please please thanks to all the PGL team and other groups who make this weekend special for us also a big thanks to you…
It was an honour to meet the scary man love him please invite him to the day trip I really want to meet him again and others people will be loved to see him. A young leader
It was such a marvelous youth event. My daughter N has just described it as a truly inspiring youth gathering, various activities of which provided them with necessary skills such as among others team work and problem solving. Thank you for taking them . A parent
Looks like a fun life changing experience. Congratulations to all who took part and especially those who had a hand in organising this wonderful event. No wonder you all need to rest and recover!
an early demonstration of how friendships have been formed
from the Sanctuary – on 10th July
We love to celebrate a birthday and we were all ready to celebrate with this special young man as he turned 18. Friends, who we met at this weekend’s PGL trip, came to join us from Swansea and Cardiff.